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  This Week With George Stephanopoulos  ABC  April 16, 2017 8:17am-8:28am PDT

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what's president trump's position today? his national security adviser h.r. mcmaster joins me now from afghanistan. it's good to see you, general mcmaster. we'll get to your trip in afghanistan in a moment. but let's talk about north korea. we know the missile test failed. what can you tell us about that? how long will it take to determine exactly what happened there? >> thank you, martha. it's a privilege to be with you. the latest missile test fits into a pattern of provocative and destabilizing and threatening behavior on the part of the north korean regime. and i think there's an international consensus now, including the chinese. the chinese leadership that this is a situation that just can't continue. and the president has made clear that he'll not accept the united states and its allies and partners in the region being under threat from this hostile regime with nuclear weapons. we're working together with our allies and partners. and with the chinese leadership
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to develop a range of options. and, the president has asked the national security council to integrate the efforts of the department of defense, state, intelligence agencies to provide options and have them ready for him if this pattern of destabilizing behavior continues and if the north korean regime refuses to denuclearize. which is the accepted objective of both the united states and chinese leadership, as well as our allies in the region. >> i want to go back to the missile if i could for a moment. apparently, it was a medium-range ballistic missile. but can you talk a little bit about what we saw in the parade in north korea and were the missiles real? was it an icbm? >> i don't know. i've not been in touch with our intelligence community on that. i would defer to our intelligence communities and the department of defense on that particular question. of course, the purpose of that
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parade is to sort of demonstrate military prowess in a threatening way. and so whether those weapons are real or fake is -- is unclear. i think, to at least -- i saw it on television, like you did, martha. no. you saw it better than i did. i think you were close by. >> i was a little closer than you were. back to what you were saying before. today, a white house foreign policy adviser briefed reporters on vice president pence's flight to seoul. and sad had north korea tested a nuclear weapon, other actions would have been taken by the u.s. you hinted at some of that. what would have happened and what was he talking about? >> the president's made it very clear he's not in the business of announcing in advance what he's going to do in a particular situation. i think what you saw last week with the president's decisive response to the assad regime's mass murder of innocent people, including children, with chemical weapons, that this national
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security team is capable of rapidly responding to those sorts of incidents and events and providing the president with options. our president is clearly comfortable making tough decisions and responding. >> the military option is on the table? >> all options are on the table. undergoing refinement and further development. >> how close do you think north korea is to having a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the united states? >> well, you know, estimates vary on these sorts of things widely. what is clear is that as long as their behavior continues, as long as they continue, missile development, even though this was a failed miss t, thilmissilt better. they learn lessons. so, what's critical for them is to stop this destabilizing behavior. stop the development of the weapons. denuclearize. that is in the best interests of the people of the region. and the north korean people, as well. >> north korea's foreign minister said the trump administration is more vicious and more aggressive. than obama administration, saying that trump's aggressive
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tweets were making trouble. does the aggressive language increase the likelihood of conflict? >> i think it should make clear to the north korean regime that it is in their best interest to stop the development of these weapons. to stop the development of these missiles. and to denuclearize the peninsula. it's clear, and we don't want to telegraph in any way how we'll respond to certain incidents, it's clear that the president is determined not to allow this kind of capability to threaten the united states. and our president will take action that is in the best interests of the american people. >> you know, one of the big concerns here, general mcmaster, is how north korea would respond to aggressive action or some sort of preemptive strike. how do you think they would respond? >> that is particularly difficult in dealing with this regime. this regime is unpredictable. someone who has demonstrated his brutality by murdering his own brother, by murdering others in his family.
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by imprisoning large numbers of people in horrible conditions for no reason. for political reasons. so this regime has given the world reason for concern. and that -- that includes the chinese people. the chinese leadership as well. what kim jong-un is doing is a threat to all people in the region. and globally as well. this is someone who has said not only does he want to develop a nuclear weapon, but he wants to use it to coerce others? he said he was willing to proliferate nuclear weapons once he develops them. and so this is a grave threat to all people. >> you heard what president trump said about china in that primary debate. but this week, he said after listening to president xi, he realized it's not so easy. are you truly confident you can get china to pressure north korea in a meaningful way?
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>> well, we'll see what happens. what we do know is that in the midst of responding to the mass murder of the syrian regime, the president and the first lady hosted an extraordinarily successful conference, summit, with president xi and his team. and not only did they establish a very warm relationship. but since that time, they have worked together on other issues. on north korea they worked together. they worked together as well in the response to the mass murder on -- on the part of the assad regime. in connection with the u.n. vote. i think president xi was courageous in distancing himself from the russians and the bolivians. this all occurred on the same day that president trump hosted the secretary general of nate tow. representing our wonderful nato allies. the world saw that.
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what club do you want to be in? the russian-bolivian club or the club with the united states, working together on mutual interests, peace, security, i think it was a great week for the united states. and thanks mostly to our president. >> you sound very confident. president trump sounds confident. one final question. every president since bill clinton has said the u.s. will not tolerate a nuclear-armed north korea. and north korea has only grown stronger in their capables. why do you think president trump will have a different outcome? >> well, as you mentioned, this is a problem that has been passed down from multiple administrations. but, our president, i think it's the consensus with the president, our key allies in the region, japan and south korea in particular, and the chinese leadership, that this is coming to a head. and so it's time for us to undertake all actions we can, short of a military option, to try to resolve this peacefully.
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and so we're going to rely on our allies, like we always do. we'll rely on chinese leadership. north korea is very vulnerable to pressure from the chinese. 80% of trade for north korea comes from china. all energy requirements are fulfilled by china. in the coming weeks, months, i think there's a great opportunity for all of us, all of us under the threat of this very unpredictable regime, is to take action, short of armed conflict to avoid the worst. >> i want to turn to russia and syria. secretary of state rex tillerson visited this week and said relations were at a low point. but the president tweeted thursday, things will work out fine between the usa and russia. there will be lasting peace. what suddenly gives him that confidence? >> when relations are at the lowest point, there is nowhere to go but up, martha. the secretary's visit to russia was perfectly timed.
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russia has given support to a murderous regime in syria that has perpetuated a civil war and a cycle of violence, that along with the brutal efforts and actions of isis have -- brought suffering to so many people. have created a crisis within syria that has bled over into iraq and neighboring countries and into europe and so forth. so russia's support for that kind of horrible regime that is a party to that kind of conflict is something that has to be drawn into question as well as russia's subversive actions in europe. and so, i think it's time, though, now, to have those tough discussions with russia. there's nobody better to do it than our secretary of state. and also to find areas of cooperation. where do our interests align? >> do you think we need more u.s. troops in syria? >> well, i mean, that remains to be seen. i don't think so. i think
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what we're doing now is supporting partner forces in syria and in certain portions of the country. including the northeastern part of the country. along the euphrates river valley. it's a matter of time, only, until isis is defeated there. what will be critical is what forces can then establish enduring security in those regions that have legitimacy with the population. that are representative of the population. that can set conditions for reconstruction to begin. martha, the cities of the sunni-arab world in that region are in rubble. so in a very successful conference in washington two weeks ago, the united states state department organized a bunch of donors and like-minded allies to pledge money for reconstruction. but what we need now is we need a security situation that's conducive to that reconstruction. that can allow so many of the displaced people and refugees to return. and for those long-suffering
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people to enjoy the security, stability they deserve. >> i want to finish on your trip to afghanistan. it's really remarkable to think about the fact that we have been fighting there since 2001. what haven't we done that we should have? and are more troops needed there? >> what's clear is the stakes are high. i mean this is -- this is really the modern day frontier between barbarism and civilization. and so, with those high stakes in mind, recognizing that the taliban groups we're fighting here, that the isis groups that we, alongside really the afghan forces, are really fighting. and we're just enabling them in the eastern part of the country, are a threat to all civilized peoples. the president has asked for a range of options. and we'll give him those options. we'll be prepared to execute